Last King of Scotland (2007) dir. Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy
“Last King of Scotland” is a great film, but not just of because of Forest Whitaker’s, most-likely at the time of this review, Oscar-winning performance but because the film itself is great filmmaking.
The film is loosely based on a true story of Idi Amin’s relationship with a Scottish doctor in 1970. Idi Amin has just come to power in a violent military coup. Amin has the support of the people because of his charisma and oratory magnetism. A young idealistic Scots doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, has come to Uganda to escape the dreariness of his middle-class British life. Nicholas is naïve and innocent and the perfect candidate for Amin to manipulate, in fact, Nicholas chooses Uganda arbitrarily by pointing his finger at a spinning globe. Nicholas bandages Amin’s sprained wrist after a car accident, this chance encounter impresses Amin, who then asks him to become Amin’s personal doctor. He accepts.
Nicholas enjoys the luxurious life of Amin’s decadent compound. But he is isolated from the rest of the country and naïve to the atrocities Amin is inflicting on his people. Nicholas’s involvement with the dictator deepens, so much so that when he realizes the corruption he’s involved it, Amin refuses to let him go. His position is even more complicated when he becomes involved with one of Amin’s attractive wives. This sets up an intense final act, as Nicholas tries to escape during a hostage crisis, which saw an Israeli-hijacked plane land in Uganda.
Some of the credit of Whitaker’s performance must go to the director and cinematographer (the great Anthony Dod Mantle). Whitaker’s speeches are shot with long lenses, and crash zooms, complementing the intensity of Amin’s public performances. The film has the graininess and look of a 16mm documentary, which adds to the authenticity. The vibrant yellows, greens and reds burst out of the screen. The pacing increases throughout the film and is accompanied by a terrific African-beat soundtrack. Two scenes standout – the hypnotic scene when Nicholas seduces Amin’s wife (the editing of which reminds me of the end of “Apocalypse Now”) and the final sequence in the airport. The film doesn’t shy away from the gore, and showing the horrors of Amin’s brutality in graphic detail. Two specific scenes made me turn away from the screen.
Kevin MacDonald (“Touching the Void” and the Oscar-winning “One Day in September”) is a great British filmmaker, and along with Paul Greengrass and Michael Winterbottom, seems to have created their own “British New Wave” – a realist/global-conscious cinema-style. If this is MacDonald’s “Bloody Sunday”, perhaps will see him wooed to Hollywood like Greengrass.
This is one of the best films of the year and a must-see. Enjoy.